Love and distraction. Those were Melissa’s two parting words of advice as she left me and the kids for a conference.
It was a four-day conference that required about seven days of travel just to get there and back.
Have you ever been told, “You can’t get there from here?” That’s where she went. Eleven days never seemed so long, but I could not complain – I did lots of traveling myself and it was her turn.
Melissa used other two-word phrases such as “bonding opportunity” as we worked out the details of her trip. Tears were shed, but the kids encouraged me to buck up – it would be alright.
Love and distraction were great words of advice, but we still had to eat. Our country of residence at the time was completely free of golden arches, aside from the place we affectionately called McShwarma. The nearest King Burger (no, I didn’t get it backwards) was three hours and at least four military checkpoints away. So I came up with two words of my own to get us through this 11-day mommy-less marathon: hot dogs.
Thus the Great Hot Dog Feast began. My goal was not only to feed but to entertain. We needed something to look forward to daily, so that the days would pass as quickly as possible. I could cook other meals; that wasn’t the issue. This was just one form of distraction – for me. It also gave us a story to tell Mommy when she got back. The goal was to have hot dogs in as many forms as possible, and we came up with about six. So dads, this is for you. But moms, we won’t tell if you implement this strategy once in a while as well.
We began with the traditional: hot dogs, buns, condiments. Simple. A point of reference. Hot dog buns were hard to come by in our neck of the woods, thus eliminating the perpetually perplexing packaging issue of bun to hot dog ratio. Instead we used small loaves of crusty French bread that were baked fresh daily in the neighborhood. Already there is tremendous potential for innovation: who says you have to use traditional hot dog buns? Why not slice the hot dogs and use a hamburger bun or sliced bread? Or even more radical: the tortilla dog. Wrap the hot dog with a flour tortilla, dress it with picante sauce and dunk it in queso cheese dip. Go loco: mom isn’t home.
Next up was the chili-cheese dog. I have vivid memories of late-night chili-cheese dogs from one of my earliest jobs at the local superette dynasty. If “easy-cheesy” is your goal, you can buy canned chili and sliced cheese and you’re done. For extra nostalgia points wrap it in plastic wrap and pretend it came out of a 1980’s era hot-box, before hot-boxes at gas stations got fancy. If, however, your kids are fans of Iron Chef America, consider this deconstructed chili-cheese dog. Prepare a bowl of chili, add sliced hot dogs, and sprinkle with shredded cheese and croutons. Alton Brown would be proud.
Onward to the mac and cheese –already a great kid-pleaser, and we brought it to the table with sliced hot dogs added to the mix. Adding ham to mac and cheese is a fairly common idea, so this is a simple substitution of another member of the meat family.
Another dish in that week’s feast was pigs-in-a-blanket. These can be homemade with canned biscuits molded around chunks of hot dog (bite-sized and beyond), but if the cook is willing to concede that cocktail sausages are really just teeny-tiny hot dogs, Sister Schubert is always ready to come to the rescue.
The corn dogs were the most challenging of the feast’s courses. There were no ready-made corn dogs I could thaw and heat, and there was